“Ticket for the final game of World Cup 1974 in Munich, Germany” by marcoverch is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The recent verdict by Scotland over Serbia to reach the 2021 UEFA Euro Tournament brought a rare moment of glory to long-suffering Scottish football fans. Scotland won the Euro qualifying playoff on penalty kicks. It moved the Scots into the final stage of an international tournament for the first time since the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
Hopefully, Scottish supporters took advantage of a no deposit bonus from an online sportsbook to place a wager on the lads prior to the qualifier. At odds of +25,000, Scotland has opened as the second-longest shot to win next year’s tournament.
It’s been a long time since Scotland qualified for any sort of major event but it’s been an even further passage of years since there was truly cause for the Scottish to get excited about the possibilities of the country’s national squad gaining a result on the world stage.
In fact, it’s probably necessary to go all the way back to 1974 to locate such a side.
Quick – name the only country to come through the 1974 FIFA World Cup undefeated?
West Germany? No, the hosts and eventual champions lost to East Germany in the group stage. The Netherlands were without a loss until bettered by the Germans in the final.
Give up? Well, that country was in fact Scotland. Outside of hard-core Scottish supporters, many don’t realize this fact of life, mainly because the Scots failed to advance beyond the group stage of the tournament even though they never tasted defeat.
A Quality Side
Leeds United were the finest side in English football in 1974 and much of the nucleus of that club were also ever present in the Scotland 11. Midfielder Billy Bremner was captain, and David Harvey was first-choice goalkeeper, while Peter Lorimer and Joe Jordan were clinical finishers up front.
The Old Firm was well represented in manager Willie Ormond’s squad as well. The Celtic duo of veteran Jimmy Johnstone and Davie Hay provided a midfield presence, with young Kenny Dalglish in a striker’s role. Danny McGrain of Celtic and Sandy Jardine were solid in the back four, joined by Manchester United’s Martin Buchan and Jim Holton.
Manchester City’s Denis Law, nearing the end of a legendary career, was a sage presence among the strikeforce.
An Ominous Start
Scotland was holding a pre-tournament training camp in Norway. During a night of carousing, Johnstone commandeered a rowboat but after pushing out to sea, realized that in the darkness he hadn’t noticed there were no oars. The Coast Guard was called in to rescue him and it became national news.
The following weekend, Scotland whipped England 2-0 and the ruckus seemed to quiet.
Off To Germany
Scotland were grouped with defending champion Brazil, Yugoslavia and African minnow Zaire. The Scots would open against Zaire.
It started out splendidly. Jordan and Lorimer potted first-half goals. “I remember it was exceptionally warm and, being 2-0 up at half-time, I think we took the foot of the gas,” Hay told BBC Sport.
The match finished 2-0 to Scotland. “In hindsight we should have tried to score more goals,” Jordan admitted to BBC Sport. “Looking at the big picture, it was a mistake. There was a bit of naivety in it. If that game had been our second or third, the scoreline might have been a little different.”
Brazil and Yugoslavia finished goalless, leaving Scotland atop the group.
The Brazilians were next up. It ended in a scoreless draw. Scotland came closest to finding the back of the net. Brazil ’keeper Emerson Leao sprawled to save a Jordan header. The rebound hit Bremner’s shin, skidding inches wide of the post.
“They didn’t have Pele, but you are still playing against that magic yellow jersey,” Hay recalled. “In the first 10 minutes we were under the cosh a wee bit, but from then on we were slightly the better team.”
Yugoslavia thrashed Zaire 9-0, so Scotland’s mission was a simple one – beat the Yugoslavs and advance.
Yugoslavia grabbed the lead with 10 minutes to play. Jordan netted an equalizer in the 88th minute but the 1-1 draw meant Scotland’s only hope was that Brazil beat Zarie by less than three goals. But Brazil did the needed, gaining a 3-0 victory, and Scotland were heading home, unbeaten but shattered.
“Over the three games, we only conceded one goal,” Jordan said. “You go back to the Zaire game, there’s a lot of disappointment – we should have done a lot more damage.”